The 13 Most Common Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid


Today’s guest post is by Lauren Bailey from Kirkus Reviews.

For every new venture, there is a learning curve. When it comes to self-publishing your book, however, that curve can be steep. After spending all that time and effort writing (and maybe even illustrating) your book, you want to make sure you do everything right—or at least as right as you can.

The shiny side of this coin is that a lot of authors have already made their mistakes, and many of them have been generous in sharing both their trials and successes. In other words, you are now in the very enviable position of being able to learn from other people’s experiences so that your own experience is positive.

1. Skimping on cover design

When it comes to book sales, first impressions aren’t just important—they are everything. Many authors opt to save money and create their own front covers. Unfortunately, unless you have a background in book publishing and serious design chops, going the DIY route could mean a sales disaster. There are many ways to invest in your book with your own hard-earned cash, but the best possible value for you is to hire an experienced book designer with a good reputation; check out design firms like The Book Designers, The Book Makers, and Damonza. This is very much a “get what you pay for” scenario, but a polished, professional, and visually arresting book cover is worth its weight in gold (by which we mean “sales”).

For advice on cover design:

2. Not optimizing your book description

Every retailer gives you a page describing your book to potential readers. It’s another case of “make your first impressions count,” because nothing will send your readers running faster than a description that is boring, rambling, or full of self-congratulation. The best way to train yourself to write a good book description is to read as many of them in your book’s genre as you can; you’ll soon notice a common structure to the writing and what kind of plot points are highlighted. Plan to spend some time reading book jackets at your local library or bookstore or cozy up to your computer and cruise your favorite online book retailer.

For more advice on writing book descriptions:

3. Insufficient research and market analysis

Forbes has suggested that between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are self-published every year. That’s a lot. In order to get the maximum leverage for selling your book, you’ll want to figure out which books are selling best (and more importantly, why), what readers want to read right now, who your key demographic is and how to reach them, and if you have any competition.

For advice on conducting reader and market research:

4. Slacking on (or entirely skipping) the editing process

Editors are hyperliterate—they’re adept at spotting typos, spelling mistakes, and grammar errors a mile away. They’re also going to be merciless about inconsistencies, plot holes, poor structure, clichés. Before you hire one, first edit the book yourself and try to get it as “clean” as possible. Then make sure you understand the different types of editing available: development/content editing, line editing and copyediting, and proofreading. It’s nearly impossible for one editor to accomplish all levels of editing in one pass, and manuscripts require different types of editing.

For advice and resources on editing—which is a complex topic!

5. Bad timing

You’d be surprised at how many people try to publish their books at the wrong time. Books about elections after the Presidential election. Christmas books released on Christmas Day. Beachy reads in November. Look at your calendar and do a little digging online to find out when you should release your book. Beyond the obvious holidays and seasons, try to find a timely connection that might help position your book as particularly relevant. This especially comes in handy for pitching it to news media or planning a book tour: perhaps the release of your historical pirate novel could coincide with an upcoming anniversary celebration of a famous shipwreck discovery or your travelogue about painting across Europe could be ready to launch in time for Henri Matisse’s 150th birthday.

6. Not selecting a specific release date and sticking to it

A big part of marketing is setting up your audience’s expectations. And nothing will destroy that relationship faster than becoming unreliable. Make sure you’re being realistic about your publishing date, and don’t let your readers down.

7. Incorrectly formatting your book

Every bookseller has different technical requirements that need to be strictly observed. Check their guidelines to find out which file type they prefer you upload—the usual suspects include a Microsoft Word document, an Adobe PDF file, or a MOBI or EPUB file—and if they accept more than one, make sure you choose the one best suited to your manuscript. (Whether your book contains graphics is a big consideration here.) Beyond the file type itself, formatting your manuscript cleanly and simply ensures that readers enjoy a seamless experience, so be mindful of fundamentals like paragraph and section breaks and uniform line spacing.

For guidance, read Joel Friedlander’s extensive how-to articles on interior design (and more).

8. No one read your book before you published it

Known as “beta readers,” these nice folks love books enough to read them and give you feedback, letting you know if your book is enjoyable and where it might need some work. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking friends and family members for honest critical feedback, but your best bet is to join a writers’ group. Writing communities are supportive, and the only cost to you for this service is returning the favor. No one likes criticism, but it’s a critical process for authors. Beta readers can be the difference between publishing a bad book (because you can’t always trust your mom or bestie) and a great book.

Note: A great online tool for organizing your beta readers (and maybe finding new ones) is Beta Books.

9. No marketing

If no one knows about your book, no one will buy it. As much as self-published authors dream about being “discovered,” it’s your responsibility to tell as many people about your book as possible—even before it’s published. These days, even traditional publishers are asking their authors to help out with marketing and social media. Engaging your readers and fans during the writing process invites them to be part of the journey, help you spread the word about your book, and buy it when it’s released.

For more advice on book marketing:

10. Selling through only one distributor

It may require some extra time on your part, but don’t restrict yourself to selling your book through one channel. It’s important to get your book out there to as many people as possible. Explore options IngramSpark and Amazon, which give you access to different types of retail outlets. And don’t forget the library market, which you can reach through ebook distributors like Smashwords and Draft2Digital. For in-depth advice on book distribution, here is Jane’s 101 article.

11. Charging the wrong price

Price your book too high, and no one will buy it. Price it too low, and you may increase your sales—but you won’t be selling your book at what it’s worth. Worse, readers may assume that because your book is cheap, it isn’t good. Research what other books in your genre and at your page count are selling for. And remember that while promotional discounts can be a valuable bump in your sales, customers are savvy enough to wait until the price drops another time.

For more advice:

12. Not using your personal network

Your friends and family love you, and hopefully they want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask them to mention your book on their social media channels. Mostly, remind them that the greatest support they can give is to buy your book for themselves—and perhaps as gifts for other people.

For more advice:

13. Quitting if your first book tanks

At some point in your life, someone probably intoned that annoying “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again” proverb. The truth is that when it comes to writing, persistence really is key. Every project and every book is an experience that will help you get to the next level. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck. And sometimes, our first effort isn’t always our best. The trick is to keep going.

Remember that when it comes to publishing your book, you don’t want to rush through the process. It’s easier to fix mistakes before your book is out in the world, and only good things can come of taking your time and doing it right the first time.

You’ve already done the hardest part of the process—writing. This is a huge feat alone, and worthy of celebrating. Remember that not only will your next book be better but you will have all the experiences you’ve learned. You’ll already have a fan base to help and encourage you. Better still, every new book you publish will boost the sales of your older books, as readers want to explore other work you’ve written. And that is where success begins.

Your turn: What advice would you give to authors who are self-publishing for the first time? What mistakes have you learned from?

Posted in Guest Post, Self-Publishing and tagged .

Lauren Bailey is a senior production editor at Kirkus Media, with eighteen years of editorial experience in book, magazine, and web publishing; retail, corporate, and nonprofit copywriting; and technical and medical writing and editing.

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Nita Leland

Thanks, Jane Friedman, for sharing Esther Park’s guidelines and fantastic resources. I’m almost ready to self-publish my memoir and this helps me see what I need to work on, especially relative to launching and marketing. So many tasks, so little time, right? Resources like this are invaluable.


Great advice, followed a few of these on my first book, GARRIDAN. Now on to book #2

Shamika King

First and foremost, I would like to say Thank You for Sharing this helpful information. It is very well needed and right on time. My advice for first time self-publishers is to keep writing no matter what. Do not be discouraged. I recently just published my second book “But God Kept Me” it wasn’t easy but I finished and now I’m on my third book. For all of you self-publishers please keep writing even when you feel like you’ve tried everything but still have no support or your book may not be selling the way you expected…please do not give… Read more »


Super article. Thank you! I’d recommend Vellum for formatting. Yes, it’s an investment, but it produces a professional-looking book in all formats, from Kobo to Amazon to paperback. Saves gobs of time.

Ernie Zelinski

As an author of several books (mainly self-published) that have now sold over 997,000 copies worldwide (notice that I didn’t exaggerate by saying a million), I think I know a few things about what it takes to succeed as an author. As Jack Canfield stated, “Results don’t lie.” In fact, David Chilton (Dragon’s Den multi-millionaire and author of “The Wealthy Barber which sold millions of copies) when trying to get a hold of me a few months ago, left a message on my answering machine saying , “Ernie, you are one of the few self-publishers who knows what he is… Read more »

Scott Dethrow

You seem to know what you’re talking about. I feel like an editor would take my book and take all the best (and most hilarious) parts out. I can spot typos, and misspellings are infrequent with me, and sometimes I use bad grammar ON PURPOSE. I use words like “gonna” and “ain’t”. The thing is, CreateSpace gave me the freedom to take an regular WORD size document, (8 half by 11 half) covert it to PDF, and then covert the entire manuscript to 6×9 which was the size I wanted. Also, after finding typos and errors I was able to… Read more »

Abena Afful

Be patient with the process.

Penny Sansevieri

Lauren what a great post! We’ll be sharing this on social for sure. And thanks for mentioning one of my posts, too!

Ted Garvin

My suggestion would be to act as though you were going to submit to an agent. The act of writing a query letter and description, plus the discipline of making your manuscript the best it can be is invaluable.

Star Ostgard

The only things that raised an eyebrow for me were a couple phrases in #3: “figure out which books are selling best” and “what readers want to read right now”. It’s probably not what was meant, but that sounds an awful lot like chasing the trends, and that can be disastrous. By the time a book is conceived, written, edited, and properly published, the best-selling books have most likely changed and readers are looking at a new “bright shiny object”.

Alexander Elliott

I agree with Star, but would also add this: why are you writing in the first place? If it’s primarily to make money then chase the crowds. If it’s to express yourself and ENJOY the process of creating a wonderful story, then write from the heart and readers will find you. Sure you have to at least try all the other things in this great summary article, but without the personal joy of writing, it’s just words.

Star Ostgard

Does clarify indeed. This was more what I hoped you had meant, versus the ‘chasing trends” thing. Thanks.

[…] you are self publishing, Lauren Bailey urges us to avoid these 13 most common self-publishing mistakes, and also consider David Kudler’s advice on the PDF vs. ePub […]


Thanks for the advice

Larry Mandelberg

Excellent content. Thanks, Jane … and Lauren.


My first book was nonfiction and had evolved from my masters thesis. Rather than self-publish what is essentially a college text, I should have looked to university presses. While the text was used by universities, Google had no problem engaging in copyright infringement, making the book available without my permission. Tough to swallow but definitely a learning experience.

David VanDyke

I’d add “Overthinking cover design” as a subset of #1. I don’t know how many new authors seem obsessed with getting the cover to exactly reflect the book itself–at the expense of hitting the center of the genre-expectation bullseye. They end up with a cover that puzzles and puts off, rather than entices, potential readers. An acceptable cover must immediately communicate the genre and, if possible, the sub-genre, to the potential reader. It should say “this is YOUR kind of book.” Pure didactic accuracy is wayyy down the list of things to be concerned about. For example, for a military… Read more »

Jackie Weger

8/24/2018 You said: “Your turn: What advice would you give to authors who are self-publishing for the first time?” I always suggest for an indie to do the best the author can for his/her book and the book will do it’s best for the author. Almost all indie books get published with a few typos. As soon as you are alerted to even one, correct it in the ms uploaded and re-upload. I prefer ‘pure’ book descriptions. I suggest an author not praise his/her own book in the description. Start building a newsletter subscriber list from day one. “What mistakes… Read more »


Very helpful. Thanks!


Helpful. Eye opening. I’m a first timer and I feel like I’m jumping off a 40 ft. cliff. Thanks for the encouragement.

J. Ward

Love this take on self-publishing! I am a specialist that helps recording artists, entertainers and authors propel into a life powered by their own works. The undertone of this article is that self-publishing does not imply selfishness but does give power to the publisher by delegating tasks to those who are better suited to handle them.

Thank You

Phil Slattery

I have self-published a few books on Amazon, and this is excellent advice. I intend to incorporate it as much as possible into developing a children’s book (quite different from my usual genres), for which I already have the first draft of the text. I am using it to explore different marketing and publicity strategies.

Victor Osa Asemota

This is concise and precise. Thanks man. I’ve got two issues: I haven’t been that social network savvy – got only a few pals on my networks. So promoting my books through this channel would afford me little.

My second issue is doubt. I’ve written three books so far,all edited. I’m almost through with the fourth. I keep hedging on publishing, even though my gut tells me. I guess I am somewhat animated by your write-up.

Star Ostgard

“I feel like an editor would take my book and take all the best (and most hilarious) parts out. I can spot typos, and misspellings are infrequent with me, and sometimes I use bad grammar ON PURPOSE. I use words like “gonna” and “ain’t”. ” I think you’ve hit on one major misunderstanding a lot of self-publishers have (unfortunately cultivated by many of the early SP “gurus”) – they don’t really understand a) the purpose of editor(s) and b) the relationships between the editors and the writer. Editors aren’t there just to find typos – but neither are they there… Read more »